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"ACW wave attack structure" Topic


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American Civil War

1,230 hits since 11 Jun 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

MiniPigs11 Jun 2019 5:48 p.m. PST

Assuming it existed as a tactic. Does anyone know how the wave attack of brigades in line was pulled off?

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jun 2019 6:25 p.m. PST

I can't say that I'm familiar with the term. Can you explain?

Mr Jones11 Jun 2019 7:23 p.m. PST

With a lot of luck. Just read the book Civil War Infantry Tactics by Hess and actions at that level were very difficult to co-ordinate.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 7:54 a.m. PST

Simply open columns, that is columns with regiments at a distance. That is basically how Upton did it at Spotsylvania.

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ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Jun 2019 9:48 a.m. PST

So, a column of regiments. Simple enough, each regiment in the brigade is in line of battle, following one behind the other. The only variable would be the distance between them.

William Warner12 Jun 2019 11:37 a.m. PST

I believe the Union attack on the "Dead Angle" at Kennesaw Mountain was similar.

FlyXwire12 Jun 2019 4:32 p.m. PST

Paddy Griffith in his book Battle In The Civil War has diagrams and explanation of wave assault drill, with theoretical distances between regiments of at least 200 yards and up to 800 yards, but in practice commanders closed the distance to 150-75 yards.

EJNashIII12 Jun 2019 7:19 p.m. PST

Scott Washburn, was it the 140th Grant vs Lee reenactment where we did the massive column assault? Came at the rebel entrenchments like that. The first unit hit the center, then the regiments behind fanned out to either side at the point of contact. It was like a tidal wave washing up on a shoreline. Something to behold.

John Simmons12 Jun 2019 8:01 p.m. PST

Upton's attack -
Upton was given command of an adhoc Division.
Hand picked, the best regiments in the Corps, 12 experienced regiments with proven leadership would form for the attack.
Only 3 regiments were from Upton's command.
We see this written about many times with the word column but the formation was in line.
Four lines each of three regiments were placed in line.
Each line was under the command of the highest ranked Col. within the line. The command was with the line, not with the depth of the formation.
No intervals were used, the lines were tight at deployment. Mass.
Each Col. in charge of a line had orders for their tactical actions.
The first line, guns loaded and capped would go over the Rebel line, then break right and left to roll up the entrenchments.
The second line, guns loaded but not capped, would move over the rebel line to push into the interior of the break.
The third line, guns loaded but not capped, would move forward and stop at the ditch for a local reserve to be called up as needed.
The forth line, guns loaded but not capped, would go to ground before reaching the rebel line to be a last reserve.
So gaming this, every unit is in line. Each Demi-Brigade of three Regiments has it's own command.
Col. Upton is acting as the Temp. Command of this Division size force. Appox. 5,000 men.
Key to the early success, Dole's GA boys had lost the skirmish line earlier in the day, no recon warning, no trip wire to sense the danger. Gen. Ewell felt this coming and had ordered Doles to retake the Skirmish line at "ALL Cost".
The Union attack hit before the GA Rebels could do this. Again, interesting for gaming, the importance of this skirmish line for battlefield intel.
The site of the attack, Upton's men were deployed in woods hidden, they had only 200 yards to travel.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 4:16 a.m. PST

EJ, I have to admit that having now fought the Civil War seven times (and we're 7-0!) the individual events tend to blur together. I seem to recall the event you mention, but I can't remember when or where it took place. :)

I did pull out my Casey's last night and paged through the seldom-read section on brigade formations. I found nothing on columns of regiments closed in mass. So I guess Upton just made that up :) Casey does have a brigade with the regiments in double columns closed up tight with each other, which would have, given three brigades, side by side by side, almost the same effect as Upton's column. Wonder why he didn't use that? It would have had some advantages over the way he did it. With twelve regiments it would have given a frontage of 24 companies (as opposed to 30) and five lines deep (as opposed to four). The advantage would be that each regiment would have its own sector and the supporting lines would all be from the same regiment instead of different ones. You could avoid intermingling better that way. Curious…

FlyXwire13 Jun 2019 6:33 a.m. PST

John S., sounds similar to the ground and assault drill we employed during a local con game (albeit our wave was generated by stacking up in the woods initially for its cover benefit) -

TMP link

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 10:03 a.m. PST

I think maybe during the Overland Campaign.

Blutarski13 Jun 2019 11:24 a.m. PST

I do not think Upton's densely ordered column assault at Spotsylvania really qualifies as a "wave attack" in the strict sense.

Also, I would suggest that a wave attack was as much (perhaps more) a tactic at divisional level, wherein waves consisted of brigades rather than regiments.

If one looks to Fredericksburg, a big problem with a wave attack seems to have been convincing the following wave(s) to continue their advance beyond the point where a preceding wave had been stopped and gone to ground.

FWIW.

B

FlyXwire13 Jun 2019 12:39 p.m. PST

Col. Emory Upton's official report of the attack on May 10 states the attack was three regiments wide, and four regiments deep, with all regiments deployed in line of battle.

"The column of attack consisted of twelve regiments formed in four lines of battle, lying down in the piece of wood as soon as formed. The lines were formed from right to left as follows: First line: 121st NY, 96th PA and 5th ME. Second line: 40th PA, 6th ME and 5th WI. Third line: 43rd NY, 77th NY and 119th PA. Fourth line: 2nd, 5th and 6th VT."

Blutarski13 Jun 2019 7:10 p.m. PST

Hi FlyXwire,
It has been a L O N G time since the Red Baron days on Delphi Forum! Do you remember "Lord Byron"? HAH!

Re Upton's assault, the distinction I was seeking to make is that the intervals between Upton's brigade lines must have been exceedingly close. If the representation of Upton's formation is dimensionally accurate, the ground scale suggests only 50 yards separation (as opposed to 150-200 yards in a conventional "wave attack".

That's why I think we have to be talking about a different tactical creature.

B = LB

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Jun 2019 8:45 p.m. PST

I believe IIRC, it was 300 yards between the lines and 15 yards between each regiment in the brigade line. I do not trust maps to give accurate distances on such things as formations. Too many compromises between getting words in clearly and actual formations, roads etc. For instance, if the distance was 300 yards, the map wouldn't show them all. Of course, that doesn't mean that the 300 yards distances were kept once on the move.

Also, I would suggest that a wave attack was as much (perhaps more) a tactic at divisional level, wherein waves consisted of brigades rather than regiments.

Seems it was by brigade.

FlyXwire14 Jun 2019 6:34 a.m. PST

Wow, Blutarski seems like ages ago since our old flight sim days!

Yours and McLaddie's points on separation could in fact be well supported.

I was just wanting to make a blunter distinction, to ensure that Upton was describing his assault as regiments being deployed in formed lines, not as in regimental columns.

As for spacing between the lines of regiments, and if some known interval delineated a wave attack or not, that is for others to debate. In practice these distances likely all varied, and certainly so as the lines approached the enemy, and began to compress or become intermingled on the battlefield (something that did threaten the prospects of the whole wave assault concept).

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2019 2:16 p.m. PST

FlyXwire:

True. Whether it was was a divisional open column of brigades or seen as a set of regimental comlumns, I don't know.

FYI Two of my uncles joined the 6th Vermont when it was formed in October of 1861. It was the only brigade allowed in the AoP to have all the regiments from the same state. Unfortunately one uncle was killed in April of 1862 at Mill Springs and the other died of cholera in Nov. of 1862…

FlyXwire14 Jun 2019 2:46 p.m. PST

Thanks for this period history on your relatives McLaddie!

Here's one of my ancestors that served, and survived the Sultana explosion and sinking -

link

Blutarski15 Jun 2019 6:28 p.m. PST

Ran across Upton's after-action report. FWIW, he described his formation as an "assault column".

B

FlyXwire16 Jun 2019 8:46 a.m. PST

A good thread discussion here on the Civil War Talk forum with 1st-hand accounts written about the assault -

link

This quote I found most informative from the diary of Clinton Beckwith, an enlistee in the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry -

"About 5 P. M. we moved over the works down into the woods, close up to our skirmishers (the 65th N. Y.), who were keeping up a rapid fire, and formed in line of battle. Regiment after regiment came up and formed in line, we being in the first or front line and the right of the column, the 96th Penn. On Our left and the 5th Maine On the left of the 96th. Behind us was the 49th Pennsylvania, behind it the 43d N. Y. and behind it the 2d Vermont. Behind the 5th Maine were in order the 5th Wisconsin, the 119th Pennsylvania and the 6th Vermont. The Rebel rifle pits were about two hundred and fifty yards in front of our skirmish line. They had no skirmishers out, ours having driven them in, but they were firing from their breastworks, on top of which they had logs to protect their heads. Our batteries (one on the right and three in the rear of us) were belching away at them, and they were answering but feebly. Occasionally the hum of a bullet and the screech of a shell gave notice that they were on the qui vive."

A Confederate account of the assault in the CWT thread describes -

"So tightly packed were Upton's mass that intervals between the lines were only ten feet."

A densely-arrayed formation, with scant distance between the ranks of the four echelons, each containing three regiments across in line of battle has been my interpretation of this 'assault column'. There are columns within, three, each containing four regimental battle lines in close-proximity to each other, those Regiments spaced directly to the front or rear of another.

Perhaps the descriptive term used for the complete formation has caused an interpretation that each component Regiment was being deployed in column order?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2019 9:35 a.m. PST

A Napoleonic French method of attacking with a column was to move in with an open column and then closing the ranks as they approached the enemy.

The term 'assault column' isn't a particular formation other than saying the column was used for an attack. I think the description is phrased the way it was, naming each regiment behind the one before it indicates more about how they saw the formation function than anything, everything guiding on the right in each line, the 121st NY being the regulating or guiding unit for the column.

FlyXwire16 Jun 2019 9:46 a.m. PST

Yes, and I think some of these descriptions may have been ways to describe tactics or formations in [American] field terms, and not necessarily ala francais.

Blutarski16 Jun 2019 1:42 p.m. PST

I agree with FlyXwire.

B

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2019 12:08 p.m. PST

Yes, and I think some of these descriptions may have been ways to describe tactics or formations in [American] field terms, and not necessarily ala francais.

Most Americna field manuals and regulations [1800 to 1860+] were copied from French manuals. Hardee's 'Light Infantry Manual' (1855). "Rifle and light infantry tactics; for the exercise and manoeuvres of troops when acting as light infantry or riflemen." Philadelphia, Lippincott, Grambo & Co. was from the French 1836 manual. Hardee's manual was used by the U.S. Army until Casey re-wrote it in 1863 [Can't have a Rebel manual being used by the Union army…]

Point being, that apart from some tweaks, the Civil War was fought ala francais.

Blutarski17 Jun 2019 3:26 p.m. PST

Hi McLaddie,

[ 1 ] A very great deal depends upon how one chooses to define that term "tweaks".

[ 2 ] In addition, North American cavalry battlefield tactics went in a very different direction from those espoused by European armies.

[ 3 ] A very great deal also depends upon how and when the term "column" is employed. In the case of the French, "column" equally well describes -
(a) a Revolutionary period infantry battalions advancing in a line of well separated divisional close column.
(b) MacDonald's 20,000 man Grand Column at Wagram.

Getting back to the initial topic of "wave attacks", I would suggest that, while a divisional attack by four or five brigades in individual lines of battle separated from on another in depth by 200 yards or so is indeed a "column" in the strict sense of the word, it is a dramatically different tactical animal from (for example) Sedgwick's extremely dense column attack at Antietam or Upton's assault column making a three hundred yard rush at Spotsylvania.

Do we have any contemporary references that clearly state the deployment intervals between the brigade lines of Upton's column? If so, I'd be interested

B

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2019 9:14 p.m. PST

Blutarski:

I wasn't talking about cavalry tactics…which really didn't go in a different direction. The terrain and traditional cavalry uses in the US were limited what kind of ways the cavalry was used, but the Skirmish methods and cavalry formation in charges were all Napoleonic templates.

What I mean by 'tweaks' are small changes OR as with cavalry emphasis on a few infantry formations. The US, like the Napoleonic British used two rank lines. In rough terrain they would extend their lines just as the Europeans, only more often, etc. etc.

Even the columns were basically Napoleonic in nature including Upton's. I do not have access to Upton's AAR, but I know it exists. Does anyone?

Blutarski18 Jun 2019 11:24 a.m. PST

Re cavalry
> It all depends upon how one chooses to view things. The fact that the USA declined to field battlefield shock cavalry or lancers and ultimately fielded what was essentially a cavalry arm uniformly organized as light dragoons (to employ the fashionable European term) represents to me a distinct departure from continental practice. I don't view this as a triviality. Why the USA did it is IMO immaterial. We chose our own path.

> No European cavalry prior to the ACW ever experienced the threat of massed fires by rifled infantry weapons, nor did it ever face rapid-firing B/L weapons. That only emerged in the ACW.

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Re infantry
> The densely vegetated terrain fought over in America militated against employment of classical close order formations; it would IMO have been impossible to maintain 28in close order frontages and 12in rank depths when operating in woods, which were almost ubiquitous. Sherman's comment about the manner in which his soldiers fought cannot be ignored. Skirmishing tactics were considered the domain of specially trained elite formations in the beginning of the war; by war's end, skirmish tactics were ubiquitous among the infantry formations of both armies.

> The late-war ubiquity of hasty and unbidden impromptu breastworks being immediately cobbled together from available local debris with every change of tactical position, so far as I know, had no parallel in earlier European tactics.

> The Civil War may have started under the aegis of French tactics, and may have retained certain aspects thereafter, but locally developed solutions to uniquely American tactical challenges resulted IMO in a separate and distinct American way of tactical fighting suited to a unique operational environment.


Strictly my opinion, of course.

B

FlyXwire18 Jun 2019 1:54 p.m. PST

Blutarski, now I get to agree with you!

(and I thought I was the only one who held these views)

Blutarski18 Jun 2019 6:37 p.m. PST

FlyXwire In your opinion, did the Fokker Triplane in fact "climb like a monkey"???

Note Apologies to other posters for the off-topic post on this thread. Above is an inside joke between two re-united Red Baron flight sim pilots who date back to the early days of the old Delphi Red Baron flight sim forum.

B (aka "Lord Byron" back on Delphi)

:-)

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2019 1:16 p.m. PST

Re cavalry
> It all depends upon how one chooses to view things. The fact that the USA declined to field battlefield shock cavalry or lancers and ultimately fielded what was essentially a cavalry arm uniformly organized as light dragoons (to employ the fashionable European term) represents to me a distinct departure from continental practice.

And this is different from the British? The Americans had no real heavy cavalry traditions throughout the 1900 century. Regardless, the formations, maneuvers and tactics they did use were the same as Napoleonic 'light cavalry.' The US considered their cavalry 'dragoon' grade cavalry, though it was all on one kind save for some specialty units like Rush's Lancers or Wilder's mounted infantry.

I don't view this as a triviality. Why the USA did it is IMO immaterial. We chose our own path.

And I am saying that whatever path was chosen, it was chosen from the formations, maneuvers and tactics already found in earlier manuals and treatises. What were the Americans doing that we don't see in the Napoleonic Wars??? All I see is lots more of some things and less of others, not a new or unique path. Armies always chose tactics to match the terrain and enemy. The French after SYW, feeling they couldn't match the Prussian precision fire etc. chose a new path, but basically used the same formations and maneuvers seen in the SYW… they just focused on some over others.

No European cavalry prior to the ACW ever experienced the threat of massed fires by rifled infantry weapons, nor did it ever face rapid-firing B/L weapons. That only emerged in the ACW.

Uh, 1854, 1859? And so? How did that find US cavalry not using previous formations, maneuvers and tactics? Just because they didn't use ALL of them, doesn't change that much. There were successful charges against infantry starting with 1st Bull Run. Forrest had several. With such dense terrain, cavalry wouldn't see many cavalry charges regardless. Cavalry charges against infantry in the Napoleonic era weren't all that successful too. Like Napoleonic times, surprise was needed to see a successful cavalry action against infantry.

- -

Re infantry
The densely vegetated terrain fought over in America militated against employment of classical close order formations; it would IMO have been impossible to maintain 28in close order frontages and 12in rank depths when operating in woods, which were almost ubiquitous.

Sherman's comment about the manner in which his soldiers fought cannot be ignored. Skirmishing tactics were considered the domain of specially trained elite formations in the beginning of the war; by war's end, skirmish tactics were ubiquitous among the infantry formations of both armies.

No, skirmish tactics were not considered the domain of specially trained elite units at the start of the ACW.
Hardee's manual was called a 'light infantry' manual for a reason. There were no 'light infantry' regiments or battalions, just infantry with regiment's companies skirmishing.

Napoleonic armies had to deal with dense vegetation etc. if not as much. The point is how the US chose to deal with the issue is very much the same formations, maneuvers and methods as the Napoleonic armies. Same terrain produced the same approaches. That you see in more in the US than Europe doesn't change anything other the dominance of some European approaches over others.

Keegan characterized Waterloo as 8 hours of skirmishing with 2 hours of formed attacks. Many, if not most ACW battles could be similarly described.

The late-war ubiquity of hasty and unbidden impromptu breastworks being immediately cobbled together from available local debris with every change of tactical position, so far as I know, had no parallel in earlier European tactics.

Actually, a lot of parallels, often in the same strategic situation, small forces defending against large forces.
Every battle in 1813 British/French battles saw such impromptu breastworks, The British did the same thing at Talavera, Wellington went big time and had the Torres Vedras Line. The Russians do it several times in 1812 including Borodino. It is done several times during the Revolutionary Wars starting with Valmy.

The Civil War may have started under the aegis of French tactics, and may have retained certain aspects thereafter, but locally developed solutions to uniquely American tactical challenges resulted IMO in a separate and distinct American way of tactical fighting suited to a unique operational environment.

Such as? Name the formation, the maneuver or the method and you will find the same used during the Napoleonic Wars. Not different, just specific selections based on terrain and needs with little being changed.

In the end, there are just so many ways you can organize, move and fight with a large group of men.

Strictly my opinion, of course.

Accepted, as are mine.

Blutarski19 Jun 2019 5:04 p.m. PST

And so must we agree to disagree.

B

FlyXwire24 Jun 2019 6:57 a.m. PST

Blutarski, check out this thread on the 18th cen. boards -

TMP link

Member Brigade de Paris has excerpted some details that describes Indian files, and the impossibility of walking abreast in formation when moving through thick American woods. This by British and Hessian infantry during the AWI.

Blutarski25 Jun 2019 6:51 a.m. PST

Hi FlyXwire,
Thanks for that link. The commentary makes complete sense and the description of Indian-style tactics adopted coincides with other material I have read in connection with the abandonment by colonial forces of conventional European infantry tactics in favor of Indian-style tactics during the French and Indian War.

It also strengthens the logic underlying the physical impossibility of maneuvering and fighting in should-to-shoulder formation in any sort of wooded terrain. There are simply too many trees in the way.

B

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP25 Jun 2019 9:46 a.m. PST

The question of 'Napoleonic Tactics' in the ACW comes up again and again. My own research indicates that the classic close order, by the book, formations were used right up to the last day of the war.


One important clue is to look at what happened AFTER the war in regards to tactics. Emory Upton publishes his new tactics manual for the army shortly after the end of the war. While there are many improvements in the mechanics of the system, the primary combat formation is still a two rank close order line of battle. If such a system didn't work during the war, why would Upton perpetuate it afterwards?

FlyXwire25 Jun 2019 11:47 a.m. PST

Scott, we're not seeing the two-tank line abandoned of course, but a greater recognition of the tactical conditions for "heavy" infantry formations, and at times for "light" infantry formations. Maneuver to contact as Sherman phrased it in ragged lines, or with swarms of skirmishers had become familiar practice in the later war years and maneuver in the thick woods of many battlefields required it.

This is of course part of the pre-war "chasseur a pied" drill

"Proponents of this tactic believed that, with the increased range, and use of the rifle musket, battlefield success could only be achieved through quick maneuver, malleable formations, and aggressive action." Gary Schreckengost

So not either or, but innately both and because of the innate conditions of fighting in an American landscape -

"It also strengthens the logic underlying the physical impossibility of maneuvering and fighting in should-to-shoulder formation in any sort of wooded terrain. There are simply too many trees in the way."

Or as illustrated as early as 1811 by Epaphras Hoyt, in Practical Instructions For Military Officers: Comprehending a Concise System of Military Geometry, Field Fortification and Tactics of Riflemen and Light Infantry.

Blutarski25 Jun 2019 1:54 p.m. PST

Pre-war drill books versus evolving realities of the ACW battlefields.

B

FlyXwire25 Jun 2019 2:42 p.m. PST

Ah rats B, I was just trying to project my best McClellan!

Blutarski25 Jun 2019 6:04 p.m. PST

FlyXwire – You've gotten me thinking ….. McClellan, Burnside, Butler, Sigel …… how did the Union ever win the war?

B

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jun 2019 4:33 a.m. PST

Having led my reenactment battalion through really dense forest I can attest to the impossibility of maintaining a battle line while moving. The most practical method is a series of company columns advancing in parallel. However once halted, well disciplined troops can quickly form the semblance of a battle line in almost any terrain.


Another interesting point to consider is that fighting in wooded terrain will negate any advantage conferred by the rifle-musket since the ranges will be so short.

FlyXwire26 Jun 2019 5:25 a.m. PST

Yes, perhaps we must emphasize woodland terrain on the battlefield not for potential cover, but as a detriment to maneuver or for "form-al" deployment.

I like your reference to negating advantage, but also in the context of delivering firepower during a competitive segment of time that is transpiring.

In a series of games my group has been playing over the past year, and something that might or might not be relevant at all [but perhaps is], woods has conveyed little advantage in the firefights between formed units within cover when engaging formed units already deployed without it.

The potential advantage of woods cover, but the time to traverse it, deploy and ready fire has come at a disruptive cost, that the firefights have often been lost, any advantage negated, while still readying formed-line order.

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